Archive for category October 2016

Trump vs. Clinton in the Race to the White House

By Kollengode S Venkataraman

This November, millions of voters in the US will ponder which box to check — whether to go with Hillary Clinton, or with Donald Trump, or to simply leave both boxes blank. Sigh! Several expressions describe my dilemma — between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, or a rock and a hard place; and Morton’s Fork, all describing situations people face in life with two or more equally bad options. My horizon is already on 2020.

It is unbelievable that the Republican Party, out of the seventeen candidates seeking the nomination — some of them astute pols rooted in the GOP system — ended up electing a neophyte in US electoral politics, Donald Trump. One would think that someone like Trump, a billionaire real estate mogul and casino owner with dicey political and legal business dealings and decisions, would prefer to stay away from the glare of public scrutiny to which presidential candidates get exposed to.

Trump does not have the backing of the GOP heavy weights and elected officials in Congress and the states, not to speak of rich donors, think tank types, and conservative columnists. Many have publicly walked away from him. Only Right-wing talk show hosts on radio and cable TV are rooting for him. Trump’s foolhardy courage is remarkable.


The lack of courage among potential Democratic candidates was pitiful. Fearing the Clinton Machine, nobody had the spine to throw their hat in the ring! If Hillary Clinton wins the election in November, as is  predicted by analysts, pundits and bookmakers, she will thank Republicans for giving her Donald Trump as her opponent. With much passion against her among Republicans and many Independents, and many
Democrats lukewarm towards her, Hillary was vulnerable otherwise.

In spite of all the negatives, the billionaire Trump’s bravado on a host of domestic, immigration, foreign policy, and defense issues, as outlandish as they are, resonate well with the working class, mostly white and less educated Americans. It is not hard to understand this.

In the US, only 33% of whites have a bachelor’s degree or better; 90% have a high school diploma or its equivalent.  (The stats are worse for blacks and Hispanics). They worked grueling hours in assembly lines, steel mills, fossil fuel industries, and mining/metal industries, but lived comfortably, with all the accoutrements of a good life — two-car garages, boats, vacations… …  Globalization and Free Trade wiped out these jobs, and the less educated working class bore the brunt of this brutal transition.

In the 2012 election cycle both the GOP and the Democratic candidates were vying with each other to offer tax cuts for the “middle class.”  When pressed to define middle class, they said it was families with an annual income under $250,000!  In the US, only around 6% of households have annual income more than $200,000. See below (Source: US Census, 2014):

The latest census data on the US Household income.

The latest census data on the US Household income.

That is, political candidates saw themselves as “Middle Class,” even though in terms of their income, net worth, and other intangible assets like  access to resources and their wide social and political network, they are the Ruling Elite. With this bizarre definition of middle class, people making between $60,000 and $100,000  can call themselves the “working poor,” while the American median family income is around $55,000.

No wonder, the upper echelons of the GOP establishment was out-of-sync from the problems of the white working class, the base of the GOP. In the primaries, these Republican voters, in disgust, opted for a total outsider, the billionaire Trump, whose rhetorical flourishes resonated with them on many domestic, immigration, military, and trade issues, which they saw as the causes for their anxieties. By electing Trump, they repudiated the GOP establishment.

This does not mean that it is party time for Hillary Clinton and her followers before the elections are over. For one, Hillary Clinton is not in the mold of Golda Meir, Margaret Thatcher, and Angela Merkel, all first-time women leaders of their countries. Meir was the prime minister of Israel (1969-74); Thatcher was the prime minister of the UK during the Reagan years, and Merkel, the current chancellor of Germany. These women became powerful world leaders on their own steam.

Hillary owes her political career to being the wife of Bill Clinton, the popular two-term Democratic president. Without being First Lady with Clinton as her last name, one wonders whether the parochial New York voters would have elected a Hillary Rodham as their US Senator, just two years after she became a legal resident there. Everything in her political career in later years emanates from her being Mrs. Clinton and having stuck with him through the thick and thin of his not entirely stellar lifestyle.

So, Hillary Clinton is the American strain of the Asian archetype of wives and daughters of politicians becoming presidents and prime ministers: Corazon Aquino (Philippines); Sirimavo Bhandaranaike (Sri Lanka); Indira Gandhi (India); Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina (Bangladesh); and Benazir Bhutto (Pakistan). Without their hubbies and daddies, there is no way any of these women could have come to wield so much power.

Hillary Clinton, as President Obama’s Secretary of State, carefully built her image for occupying the White House by visiting over 110-plus countries, honing her image both inside the US and outside. However, nonpartisan — or at least less partisan — observers see her imprint on US foreign policy as lackluster, despite her rock star image.

If people remember the highlights and lowlights of the 2008 Democratic primaries, Hillary Clinton’s campaign against Sen.Barack Obama then contained veiled racist flourishes to win over working-class white voters, something she now vehemently condemns in Trump. But that is politics. Even many women voters are turned off by Hillary Clinton’s negatives.

If Trump ever goes past Hillary in the delegate count and walks into the White House, he too will have to thank his stars that he had Hillary Clinton as his opponent. At least on this score, the two are even.

So, come November, both candidates’ negatives will energize their opponents to bring voters to the polling booth on Election Day. If the weather on that day is bad, only hard core supporters will show up, and anything can happen. In any case, it is unlikely that it would be a landslide victory for Hillary Clinton, either in terms of the popular vote nationwide, or in the delegate count.

That is why it is a choice among Worse, Worse, and Worse, come November. Leaving the box blank is also not a good option. There is, however, one silver lining for both candidates in this scenario: Whoever wins, voter expectation for both is so low that even if their performance is barely a passing grade, people would sigh in relief, “After all, it is not as bad as it could have been!”  And their cronies will spin this as their master’s great accomplishment!

Endnote: In this election cycle, with no coattail effect, and with so many negatives for both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, candidates for the US House and Senate for both parties are pretty much running on their own. If the anti-establishment mood plays into the voters’ psyche, people may simply vote against sitting members seeking re-election to the US House and Senate. So, the elections to the US Congress will be as important. The US Senate leadership may change hands and in the House, the GOP majority will erode, maybe even evaporate.

We are certainly living in interesting times.  ♣

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India in the 2016 Rio Olympics

By Kollengode S Venkataraman

One Indian news item this summer that drew global attention — from the media in Europe, North America, and even China — is why India with its 1.2 billion population does so poorly in the quadrennial summer Olympics. If you Google-search on this topic and read the top 10 news stories, you will get a good idea of why it is so. There was no smirk in these stories. They were simple, straightforward, and matter of fact. In every social group — extended families, ethnic/caste groups, temples, churches, corporations, hospitals, even nation-states — outsiders readily see what is wrong that the insiders do not see, or refuse to acknowledge, or are embarrassed to admit.

Sakshi Malik after winning her Bronze for wrestling in the 2016 Olympics. Look at her gleeful, joyous smile! In the Indian context, Sakshi, like the other winner Sindhu, is not “fair.” But she is not just “lovely,” but gorgeous.

Sakshi Malik after winning her Bronze for wrestling in the 2016 Olympics. Look at her gleeful, joyous smile! In the Indian context, Sakshi, like the other winner Sindhu, is not “fair.” But she is not just “lovely,” but gorgeous.

This year, India’s medal count was abysmal, even by Indian standards. The total medal count in the last five Olympics, including the 2016 at Rio are: 1, 1, 3, 6, 2 out of over 700 gold, silver and bronze medals. Only two medals in 2016, one bronze for wrestling, and the other, a silver, in badminton, both won by women. Cherish the irony here, given the macho atmosphere of the Indian sports scene!

Shobha De, the ultimate gossip columnist titillating anglicized Indians, stirred the pot on the India Olympics this year with the tweet, which, in translation read, “Go to Rio, click your selfies, and return empty-handed.” De is the mother of the phrase Bollywood she coined in derision decades ago for the Bombay-based Hindi film industry. Now, Bollywood is mainstream, and has given birth to Lollywood (for Lahore, Pakistan), and Kollywood (Kodambakkam, Tamil), and Mollywood (Malayalam), and Tollywood (Tollygunj, Bangla, and also Telugu).

She was widely berated for her comment. Among the many thoughtful responses to De’s comment, one stood out. I regret not jotting down the name of person. I do not have the exact words. If I can paraphrase his comments, it went something like this:

“Why everybody is piling of the poor performance of the Indian athletes in Rio?  For all the money India spends every year and the vast infrastructure it has in national science labs, IITs and IIMs, nobody asks why India’s record is poor in Nobel prizes?  And for the 100-plus years of history in the film making, why India’s record is so poor in the Grammys, Emmys and Oscars?” 

A valid point, requiring soul searching and serious discussion.

In any case, if you scan the hard copies of any Indian English newspapers, one glaring observation stands out: over 90% of the column inches are taken up by the raw, personality-based political news at the national and state levels; news and gossip about films and film personalities; cricket news; European culinary trends in the Indian Metros; real estate; how Indian techies are ruling the world (?), and fashion.

Sakshi malik received by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi after her return with the Olympic Medal.

Sakshi malik received by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi after her return with the Olympic Medal.

With these items taking up so much oxygen for the greater part of every year, not much is left for anything else. Add to this the Indian ethos of disdain for all physical activities in general.

In many countries, sports & athletics are a serious business with governments pumping in lots of money. They identify youngsters before they are 10, and train them in gymnastics, track and aquatic events, and all others. That is the only way to nurture excellence in sports. 

However, excellence in sports and athletics is not a priority for the Indian middle class — unless it sees money in it, lots of it, as in cricket. That is how India killed field hockey, a very intense game in which India excelled years ago. If America is  obsessed with sports from high school onwards, India is antipodal in its total apathy to school/college sports. The governmental indifference to providing the critical athletic infrastructure and training is only a reflection of the Indian middle class’ apathy for sports.

Besides, nurturing and demanding excellence and weeding out incompetency and under performance are not priorities in today’s India in most facets of human endeavor. Acquiring wealth using any and every way possible, and flamboyantly consuming it are the main pursuits for a big chunk of the Indian middle class. The poor performance of India in Olympics is only a glaring manifestation of this underlying ethos of today’s India. Given this Indian disdain, we need to admire the Indian  athletes for their persistence with very few resources and the ridicule of the elites a la Shobha De, when they return with very few medals.

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“My journey in Indian Classical Dances” — A Grandmother talks to her Granddaughter

By Moha Desai, Bridgeville, PA

Shrimati Tani Desai, mother of Shambhavi Desai of Bridgeville, grew up in a traditional Nagar Brahmin family in Bombay in the 1950s and 1960s. She had the rare experience of earning her degree in Bharatanatyam from MS University in Baroda in the 1960s by staying in a hostel far away from her home, something that was unusual then. Moha, daughter of Shambhavi and Priyadarshi Desai, talked to her grandma on how she got interested in Bharatanatyam that propelled her to go and earn a degree in the dance form in the 1960s.  

I had a blessed opportunity of sharing the stage and performing a dance piece with my grand-ma (Tani-ma) earlier this summer. She is now in her 60s. It was a magical experience! In the course of talking to her as her granddaughter, I knew that she earned a degree in Bharatanatyam from the MS University in Baroda. This was in the 1960s. With my own exposure to the Indian classical performing arts tradition in the US, I sat with her to hear from her about her times, her journey in working for a degree in dance and much more.  Here are some excerpts:

Tani Desai talking to her granddaughter Moha for this article

Tani Desai talking to her granddaughter Moha   for this article.

Tani-ma, when you were growing up, what was the society around you, and what was your home environment like?

“I was fortunate to be born and brought up in a large close-knit family in Mumbai with five uncles and aunts. My extended family had an active interest and knowledge about music, dance and dramatics. My father — the eldest in the family — played the flute while other younger uncles and aunts played violin, percussion, Jal Tarang, or were good singers. One of my uncles and brothers were good theatre actors.

“My first guru and uncle, Shri Arjun Desai, trained me in Bharatanatyam and Manipuri dance styles from age five to sixteen. He also introduced me to Guru Devendra Sinha, who taught me Manipuri as well. So, looking back, music and dance had virtually been our way of life while growing up.  I was not even conscious about it. It is like a fish not knowing that it is immersed in water.”

What were the priorities for girls then in general and how did you fit in to those priorities?

“Life during the 1950s and 1960s was definitely not the same for girls as it is these days. Although performing arts were a way of life for me, having a good education was the first priority. I had my schooling in Saint Teresa’s Convent, where discipline and good academics were stressed. I did not get to perform Bharatanatyam or Manipuri at my school like how you all do, but had to do a ‘book-balancing dance’ taught by one of our enthusiastic teachers at school!

Tani Desai in her student days.

 Tani Desai in her student days.

“Like any other girl, I used to help out with the house-hold chores which included ironing our own clothes, talking care of younger siblings and cousins and so on. All this was in addition to a full-day of school, homework, and dance classes/practices every single day in the evenings; and we used to walk two miles to and from our school! As a senior dance student, I was a part of more than 17 dance ballets in a lead role and other solo performances. I had to manage my time very wisely.

“After I completed my high school, I was really at a crossroads. I loved math and wanted to major in commerce for my Bachelors’ degree at a college in Mumbai while continuing my dance in my free time. Luckily, my parents and uncles recognized my passion for dance, and persuaded me to go to M.S. University, Vadodara and major in Bharatanatyam at the Department of Performing Arts. This was the only University at that time in India that offered degrees and post graduate level courses in dance. I finally went to Vadodara, stayed in a hostel for four years and pursued dance. My parents had done the right thing for me.  I had found my home away from home! I eventually did my Masters’ degree here — after I had your mom and your mashi!!  It was very unusual at that time!”

What was the attitude of your fellow neighbors and acquaintances?

“The attitude of the people was mixed. Many of our acquaintances were happy for me when I chose to go to Baroda for majoring in dance- but many others raised their eyebrows at the fact that a young girl from a Nagar Brahmin family was  1) leaving the city, 2) staying in a hostel, and 3) then pursuing dance as against other more conventional areas of studies. This did not dampen my spirits but instead helped me to stay focused and determined.”

In her prime during a recital.

In her prime during a recital.

Tani-ma, How old were you when you got married?  Was it an arranged marriage? 
“I was twenty-one years old when I got married. Your nanu (grand dad) and myself decided on our own and both our parents happily consented when we informed our parents.”
And what was the reaction of nanu (grandfather) and his parents when you wanted to pursue dance after marriage and also after having two children?
“Your nanu was fully aware of my passion for dance right from Day-1. He has always been supportive of my interest at every stage of my pursuit.  Without his support and understanding, I could not not have done anything in pursuing dance.   However, it took quite a while for me to persuade my father-in-law to pursue my interest in dancing. I am very happy to tell you, eventually, he was the one who accompanied me for my masters admission.  Mind you, this was after my two daughters started going to school. My mother-in-law was always happy with my interests.  I was very fortunate. “
What was the curriculum for students pursuing a degree in dance?

“The curriculum for the Bachelors’ of Performing Arts (BPA) — formally known as Bachelors in Music (B.Mus.) — is an exhaustive four-year degree course that is divided into theory and practical in each year. It includes all important aspects of Natyashastra, Abhinaya Darpana, Bharatarnava, covering the basics of music, dramatics, and the study of all other classical dance styles, folk dances of India, as well as western/modern dance theories and dances of Southeast Asia. The practical included from the basic adavus to full Margams with training in the Tala system and Nattuvangam. The syllabus also had other subjects like Cultural History, Aesthetics, English, Psychology, Physics and Economics.”

At the university, in the Bharatanatyam coursework, and in the practical classes, what was the language they used for teaching? 

“The official language of teaching was English; but teaching was usually done using a blend of English, Gujarati and Hindi as we had students from all over India and abroad too. Our teachers went to great lengths to explain the Tamil and Telugu terms and translated them as required.”

What changes did you see in dance over the years?

“ Well, there are many changes — most of them good. My Guru, Smt. Anjali Mehr in Baroda, introduced us to choreographing Padams in other regional languages, in addition to the traditional Tamil and Telugu. Many experimental works had already started in our times, but now they are being accepted with a more open mind than before.

“As long as the basic technique and the signatures of the art form are not compromised, such changes are healthy. What pains me though at times is the rampant commercialization at the cost of creativity.  On the brighter side, learning Bharatanatyam or any other classical dance form has become

Desai with her students flanked by her granddaughter (left) and Shambhavi her daughter, (right).

Desai with her students flanked by her grand-daughter (left) and Shambhavi her daughter, (right).

fairly common in all parts of India and abroad, and by people from every kind of socioeconomic background. That says it all!”

What keeps you going, Tani-Ma?

“A lot of things! Gratitude, satisfaction and passion. Gratitude towards God, my parents, my husband and my family — that I could pursue dance all my life in spite of many challenges along the way. It gives me immense satisfaction and pleasure that I could pass on the same passion to my three daughters and the third generation as well.

“It is satisfying that I could inspire hundreds of students through my dance institute, Pagrav, over five decades, and hope to do so as long as I can! Dance, like any other art form is a Sadhana (pursuit with a total commitment) to connect directly with God. One has to follow the Three Ds to excel: devotion, dedication and discipline. There are no other shortcuts.”       ♣

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Musings on Mother Teresa’s Sainthood

By Kollengode S Venkataraman

On Sunday, September 4, the Vatican ceremonially conferred sainthood on Mother Teresa, based on miracles she is supposed to have carried out in people’s lives. As the Reuters reported (, the process of conferring sainthood is “more bureaucratic than beatific.” Also read this: So, we reproduce part of our obituary on Mother Teresa’s death in the October 1997 issue of the Patrika:

“In the midst of Calcutta’s mean streets — it could be the slum of any other city — a European nun working with the poorest and the sickest eventually drew the attention of leaders in India and outside, including those perched in the Vatican. With her global reach, one might even say, many indigenously run nonsectarian relief agencies in India did not get the attention and support even within India.

“Mother Teresa lived among the poorest and sickest in an overcrowded city where whatever infrastructure was there was falling apart. And the revered Mother saw no reason for at least tolerating modern family planning methods that excluded abortion.

 “No doubt, it is noble to give the wretchedly poor dignity at least in their death. An equally noble act is to make… … the uneducated poor, recognize that if they do not have large families, they have better chance of getting their children out of poverty, and society may be able to give citizens dignity not only in death, but in life as well.  And it is here that one believes Mother Teresa could have had greater impact.”

If we do not bring these wretched souls into world in the first place, mother-teresa-with-halothere is no need for somebody to save them after all. Poverty, I concede, has many contributing factors. However, for destitute families, such as those in the slums of Kolkata, Manila, Mexico City, Paris, or Detroit, large family is one major contributing factor. The deprivation Mother Teresa saw every living moment staring at her in the Calcutta’s slums did not move her to question Vatican’s edict on family planning. Her loyalty to the Vatican on this point was stronger than her compassion to the human abject poverty-driven suffering she was staring at every moment in Calcutta.

The Vatican’s intransigence on family planning is astounding, given its global reach. After all, an overwhelming majority of even working class Catholics, not to speak of professional white-collar Catholics worldwide practice family planning, not caring its pastoral injunctions. So, the halo around Mother Teresa’s sainthood is not sublime. It is more like the blemishes we see on the moon.   ♣

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Eishan Ashwat’s Pleasant Manch Pravesh Recital

By Shailesh Surti


Pittsburghers have witnessed many Arangetrams by young Indian-American dancers. However, we have not witnessed a Manch Pravesh, the first solo recital of Hindustani classical music by a student after years of learning, marking the student’s beginning of a deeper understanding of the art form. Eishan Ashwat‘s Manch Pravesh recital was on June 18 at the Sri Venkateswara Temple Auditorium.

For a young boy growing up in Pittsburgh with no previous exposure to this music, to pursue vocal music with passion, many stars have to align. Eishan found encouragement from his parents, Shirish and Anuradha Ashwat. They live close to Shambhavi Desai (in the inset), a faculty member of the Pandit

Guru Shambhavi Desai

Guru Shambhavi Desai

Jasraj Institute of Music (PJIM). She trains under Guru Pandita Tripti Mukherjee. Shambhavi initiated Eishan into vocal music when he was seven. Later, he learned from Pandita Tripti Mukherjee, following the traditions of the Mewati Gharana.

He practiced for countless hours, sometimes with his Guru Shambhavi and with Shambhavi’s husband Pryadarshi Desai, who plays the harmonium. While preparing for the recital, he had guidance from the Sangeet Martand Pandit Jasraj himself. 

The recital was in front of invited guests well versed in the nuances of Indian vocal music. Eishan gave a full recital, a total of eight compositions in different genres, starting with a Bada Khayal (Khayal in Persian means imagination) in Raga Madhuvanti set to Vilambit (Slow tempo) Ek Taal. He handled the long and serious Bada Khayal, generally sung by the professionals, with ease and elan.

This was followed by a Chhota Khayal in the same Raga set to Teen Taal. Eishan here introduced some complex taans. He used traditional Bandishes (lyrics) for this Raga with sweet and romantic sentiments. The next item was a Khamaj Thumri a light classical piece in Taal Adha.


Eishan next rendered a Dhrupad piece, composed by the legendary musician Tansen, in Raga Vasanat set in Chautaal.  The Dhrupad style involves an elaborate aalap, followed with layakari with the rhythm. He then rendered a Haveli Sangeet piece, sung in Vaishnava Temples, a Krishna Bhajan set in taal Deepchandi, followed by a Trivat in Raga Kirwani.

Since his family is from Karnataka, he also recited a  Kannada Bhajan of Purandara Dasa in Raga Bibhas. As is customary, the last piece was in Raga Bhairavi, a Meera Bhajan.

It gives me great pleasure to record that Shri Kulkarni on the Tabla, and Dr. Nadkarni on the Harmonium, both veteran musicians in their own standing, provided encouraging support to Eishan.

The program was well received and enjoyed by all. Hopefully, a few youngsters in the audience were persuaded to take up vocal music. Eishan displayed his versatility by singing in seven ragas set in eight different taals, from the ancient genres of Dhrupad to more recent Khayal, Thumri and Bhajan in his first solo recital.

Eishan knows this is just the beginning of his musical journey. With  passion, hard work and guidance from his gurus, he will go far.

Eishan is an Eagle Scout. He just graduated from South Fayette High School with high academic honors. He is going to the University of Pittsburgh in a program that will admit him to the medical school. Staying in Pittsburgh will allow him to continue his training under his Gurus.

Pittsburgh is very fortunate to have PJIM-trained dedicated Adya Gurus of the Mewati Gharana. We look forward to more Manch Praveshes in Pittsburgh by young musicians.   ♣

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Insightful Introspection in a Vipassana Session

By Asawari Jadhav, Peters Twp., PA


Asawari Jadhav grew up in Nagpur, India before living for a decade in the UK.  She arrived in the US twelve years ago. She now lives in Peters Township with her family and works as a Technical Project Manager for Bombardier Transportation. Her hobbies include playing on the sitar and reading.

Editor’s note:  Vipassana is a simple and yet difficult meditation technique practiced and perfected for over 2000 years by the Southern School of Buddhists, the Teravadins, in Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and Southeast Asia. The etymology of Vipassana is in the Sanskrit dhatu (root) drsh meaning “to see, gaze, look.” The prefix vi here means “total” or “comprehensive.” The Vipassana meditation practice is a “comprehensive insight into oneself,” which is easily said, but can be done only with open-mindedness, patience, and practice.

asawari-jhadav-1Over the last few years, I have heard the word “Vipassana” from many believers in the family. The thought of maintaining noble silence for ten days, meditating close to over ten hours each day, disconnecting myself from a device that is almost embedded in my palm, and not being able to run my family, seemed next to impossible.

I had recently tried to question the rat race I was running. I was slowly observing the agitation, anger, an overwhelmed mind, and an impulsive reaction to situations about which I had no control! I finally did end up signing for a ten-day course — over eleven to be precise as the first day is considered Day Zero.

For those who have not heard about Vipassana, I need to tell you that this is more than a course/workshop: students are not allowed to read, write, connect, listen, exercise or take part in any form of entertainment or physical indulgence.

Once I signed up, I realized what I was in for, and the reality had begun to sink in. The thought of getting up at four in the morning and being totally disconnected from the outside world was starting to find every excuse to not join! Fortunately, my earlier wise decision to stick it out for eleven days prevailed over the strong thought to quit. For most of you who have not already checked the Dhamma website, here is a brief summary of the schedule:

Wake up call at 4 a.m. with a one-hour break for breakfast between meditation sessions. A lunch break and rest for two hours and another four-hour meditation session (with breaks). A tea break at 5 p.m. with the last session ending in a discourse by Shri Satya Narayan or S.N.Goenka before retiring 9:30 p.m.

My first day was tolerable, though I found myself dozing off from being in a quiet dark room with long hours of sitting. By the end of the second day, the pain had started to sink in making me very uncomfortable and even the stretching and walks were beginning to be ineffective. My mind was everywhere almost like a spring. Before I could realize it, I was designing fancy comfortable meditation chairs and redoing the window treatments in the Vipassana Center.

On the third day, I was starting to lose it. The OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) in me had started to organize my memories into stacks. I was kind of spring cleaning the rooms in my brain. Every time I needed a break from cleaning, I would start to pay attention to my breathing. Slowly, I began to question my imagined veracity of the source of my problems, and almost learned a new way of looking at many situations.

Fourth day is when the real “Vipassana” starts. I had already started to adjust and enjoy my own company.

By Day Five, I got into a pattern of changing cushions and positions where I did not get into a torturous physical situation. My mind was craving for the intellectual stimulation, even though craving and aversions were two things I was training my mind to stay away from.

During my breaks I had counted the mugs in the café, read every instruction in the center and estimated the age of the trees! I thought a lot about my family and by the end of Day Five, I  was convinced that my husband had forgotten to pick up my thirteen-year-old  from camp, and my  seventeen-year-old  had forgotten his passport for a trip abroad. Panic started to set in. I had created a situation where I really needed to get out. The discourse in the evening revealed that it was normal to have thoughts of quitting.

Day Six and onward got progressively better. I was beginning to feel grounded, calmer, felt less affected by past heartaches. I had almost made peace with my worst enemies.

Day Ten seemed still a long way to go but the bittersweet feeling had started to set in. I had started to accept what was served. Even though the quality of the food was beyond my expectations, I had tried things that I would never even attempt before. I felt lighter inside. I had never recognized the weight of the ego I had carried all along.

Before breaking the Noble Silence on the tenth day, I had started to wonder if my own voice would startle me. I was at peace with my own thoughts. However, I was also curious to verbally connect with the fifteen other women who had shared their energies with me in the meditation room. Women from different walks of life, diverse not only in nationalities but also in age and cultures!

It has been only a few days since the completion of the session, and I am certain I will continue to observe the changes in me from this experience. Here is a summary that I would love to share with you:

Vipassana is not a meditation retreat. It is a process by which you strengthen your mind and increase awareness and practice equanimity. The technique to do this is to observe your breath and bodily sensations without developing a craving or aversion to them. It is simple and difficult at the same time. The focus is to realize that “Change is the only constant thing in life.”

Every misery arises from the fact that we as humans are constantly reacting to something that is inevitably going to change. It is unrealistic even to hope to drag everybody you are not able to deal with to Vipassana. The need for changes in people should come from within individuals. A ten-day course can just set the direction for you but do not expect to come out with an aura on your head.

Just because you are not paying attention to it, does not mean the world will fall apart! Things still move on when you are not in control.  I realized that Peace and Happiness is a State of Mind.

The ten most physically difficult days of my life beat the most exotic locations I’ve visited. So, if you’re ready for introspection, consider attending a 10-day Vipassana session to make an impression on yourself.

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Reaching Your Potential Through Teaching

By Archana Janardhanan


Archana grew up in the North Hills. After completing her B.A. in English at the University of Michigan in 2004, she worked in New York City for several years before pursuing her master’s degree in Elementary Education at Duquesne University. She now teaches fifth grade at Bradford Woods Elementary School in the North Allegheny School district.

archana-janardhananIt is no secret that medicine and engineering are the most popular career choices for Indian-Americans. It makes sense: our parents came here with hopes for a better life for their children. They groomed us to be well-educated to choose life paths which would ensure financial security.

However, the world has changed in the intervening years. The goals of second and third generation Indian Americans are not necessarily the same as those of our parents. As the new generations of Indian Americans emerge, I think it may be important for parents to let their children explore other professions in which we may thrive. Young people these days have a heightened awareness and empathy for others that parents need to recognize.

This is why I would like to make the case for teaching. Education is a field in which you are mentally and emotionally challenged each day. There is a level of satisfaction in teaching that no paycheck or prestige could bestow. That satisfaction stems from several aspects of the job.

This year, I had a young student who came to my class at the end of the school year after attending several other schools in the same year. My understanding was that he had behavioral issues which caused some problems with other students.First, let me start with the students. The students are the heart of the profession. They will bring out the best and worst parts of you and thereby allow you to learn some major life lessons.

When he came to my class, he was absolutely wonderful for one week. After that, there was a steady decline in his behavior. He said and did inappropriate things on a daily basis and was even suspended after two weeks. Every time he got in trouble, I spoke to him about his actions and why they were wrong. It seemed I was getting nowhere and my frustration with him was only growing.  In the last week of school, I approached him about another transgression.

The night before, I had read an article about how teachers can prevent suspensions by practicing empathy. I decided to put this into practice. When I approached him about what he did, I didn’t speak about his wrongdoing. Instead, I told him I wanted him to be happy. I wanted him to love school and to make friends and to do well in all of his subjects. I told him that I wanted to assist him in practicing behaviors that would help him succeed.

For the first time, he looked me in the eyes when I spoke to him. I will never forget that conversation because I believe it was the first time I connected with him. It made me realize that unless you make an authentic connection with your students — for that matter, with people in general — you cannot have a meaningful impact on them.

Second, your colleagues can be a major source of job satisfaction. When you teach, you are in the trenches every day. You rely on your colleagues for advice, resources, moral support and laughter. Teachers are some of the most wonderful people you will ever meet. They are so used to putting others before themselves that they are usually willing to help you at the drop of a dime. My colleagues have taught me that when you think less of yourself and more of others, you’re happier all around.

The third reason teaching is a worthwhile profession is that you are able to leave your lasting personal imprint on students’ lives. While it is often necessary to adhere to district curriculum standards, once you get used to teaching them, you may use your creativity at your will.

This year, I decided to finish the year with a fun science project. I wanted to make my students aware of the resources all around them and have them incorporate them into our lessons. I decided to arrange a walking field trip to the local community nature reserve. My students took plastic containers and jars and collected various specimens at the reserve.

We then walked back to school and created terrariums (enclosed ecosystems). The students observed the activity in their terrariums each day and kept an ongoing log. For the rest of the year, when they came to science class, they ran to the back of the room to look at their terrariums. I have never witnessed such excitement for a project before this one. We had accomplished our learning objectives while having fun and bringing nature indoors.

While teachers do not make the salary that doctors and engineers make, we have a noble profession all the same. I know that when I look back on my life at the end of it, I will be satisfied and at peace with myself because I have impacted others’ lives in my own way.

If you are trying to finding your life’s path, no matter what age you are, I encourage you to consider teaching. We must bring our best and brightest to this profession because I can think of no one who deserves it more than our children.     ♣

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Helping Disadvantaged Girls to Get Education in Rural India 

By Dr. Mani Balu, Monroeville, PA


Dr. Balu, a retired clinical pediatrician, practiced in Uniontown, PA for 23 years, and now lives in Monroeville, PA. He goes to Chennai every winter with his wife Shantha, and helps people afflicted with leprosy, an entirely manageable disease, but with lots of social stigma.

Leprosy is a chronic disease caused by a slow-multiplying bacteria, with five years of incubation period. The disease affects the skin, the peripheral nerves, the mucosa of the upper respiratory tract, and the eyes. This disease is curable with Multi-Drug Therapy (MDT) (Source: WHO). This disease affects in a totally different way healthy young girls in families with elders afflicted with leprosy.

In 2004 I met two dedicated women in Pittsburgh in a conference — Becky Douglas of Atlanta and Padma Venkatraman of Chennai — who work helping leprosy patients. Their work and involvement in helping leprosy patients, who are the most misunderstood, neglected and ostracized people of the world, impressed me immensely. I joined them to start a Mobile Leprosy Clinic in Chengalpattu (near Chennai), which has the biggest leprosy hospital in Asia. Understandably, leprosy patients gravitate towards that town, living in and around the hospital, as they are not allowed to live in the main streets of any town.

While visiting their living quarters, I found out that the girls above 12 or 13 years of age are not allowed to go to school by their parents because there are no lavatories or rest rooms in these schools. With help from some of my friends, we started building rest rooms in these schools. We were very thrilled that this alone increased the number of girls attending schools.

These bright children in these remote villages are denied education because of their parents’ poverty and ignorance on the part of the public, but through no fault of their own. That is the reason for this article.

Most immigrants from India in US are here because of our education, enjoying a comfortable life for ourselves and our children and grandchildren.  In 1956 when I was in medical school in Madras Mr. R. Venkatraman, then Labor Minister of Tamil Nadu (who decades later became India’s president) came to our Medical School. In his address, I remember him telling us this: “Each one of you pay Rs. 200 as your annual fee and the government spends Rs.15,000 on every one of you yearly to run the medical college.” Padma Venkatraman, with whom I now work to help the leprosy patients, is R.Venkatraman’s daughter.

I could not have become a doctor if the annual fee was any higher than
Rs.200! Only the government-subsidized education enabled me to accomplish whatever I did in my life. This is probably true for most of us. In that spirit, I appeal to all of you to help the less fortunate children in India to reach their full potential.

In the past several years I have met many dedicated NGOs in Tamil Nadu helping the needy — AIM (All India Movement) for Seva, The Tamil Nadu Foundation (TNF), Ekal Vidyalaya, Udavum Karangal, to name a few. I am sure there are equally good or better NGOs in other parts of India.

I always feel if each one of us helps our own village where we come from, India will be a better country. Two years ago, I saw a big banner in the Guindy Engineering College in Chennai, once a premium institution in Chennai. It read “EDUCATE A CHILD WHO IS NOT YOURS” Let us do this together.

If you want for further details, contact me at 724 438 8242 (H), 724 322 7175 (C) or e-mail:     ♣

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My Take on Musical Instruments

by Milun Kumar Jain, Wexford, PA

Milun Jain is starting 7th grade at Marshall Middle School, Wexford. This poem of Milun’s (when his class teacher was Mrs. Phyllis Chvostal) won second place in the Junior Music in Poetry Contest sponsored by Pennsylvania Federation of Music Clubs, Class 1 a couple of years ago.

On a piano I see black ‘n’ white keysjain-image

Sure, violin reminds me of a waterfall

The trumpet leads the marching band

While the cello sounds so low

This is my take on musical instruments!


The viola soothes me to sleep

The double bass can wake me up

The flute evens the hills and valleys

And the guitar makes me rock and roll

This is my take on musical instruments!


The drums appear to be in a war

While the saxophone plays real loud

The harp vibrates my arm and body

The triangle shakes my heart and mind

This is my take on musical instruments!


As I strike the xylophone with the mallet

The bagpipes take me to Scotland

As grunt I am as the harmonica

Happy-go-lucky I go with the clarinet

This is my take on musical instruments!


I can use the trombone like a telescope

And the tuba buzzes like butterflies

Through the maze-like tubing of the horn

My whistle goes loud and clear

This is my take on musical instruments!      ♣   

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More on Tayir, Dahi, Mosaru, or Perugu

By Kollengode S Venkataraman

The write up in the last issue for making authentic tayir (dahi, mosaru, or perugu) had surprising reader responses. It was a good point for conversation for me with friends in social gatherings, much to the chagrin of my wife. More importantly, I received e-mails from readers enquiring how they can get the starter tayir. A couple of them even came to my place to get the starter tayir. They made the original stuff at home, carefully following the instructions. They were pleased with the outcome.

One reader from the American mainstream was surprised that it is so easy to make this at home. She commented that the one she made at home tasted much better than the standard Dannon fare from grocery stores.

By now, tayir and its other Indian variants are common words for our readers. So I will no more italicize them going forward.

One reader was so impressed with the tayir he made at home that he enquired the shelf-life of the starter tayir, if he goes on vacation. As a matter of fact, I was away for 2 weeks in July-August. I kept the starter tayir in a small container in the refrigerator, making sure that the starter tayir is filled to the brim of a container, and the container was closed with an air-tight lid. When I returned from my vacation, the starter tayir was well preserved in its original condition. When I made a fresh batch of tayir, it came out just perfect. Note: If the container is partially filled and closed with a lid, the trapped air in the container may spoil the starter tayir.

Usha Gowda of Monroeville, who is originally from Karnataka, is one of my friends. She suggested this improvement for making mosaru (the Kannada term for tayir): After adding the starter stuff to the milk that is boiled-and-cooled to room temperature, put a small piece of dry red chilly into the vessel and gently stir it and let it sit. Some phytochemical in the red chilly accelerates the fermentation and the mosaru is ready in 5 to 6 hours; it sets also a little thicker, and slices better. Indian green chilly also works just fine.

Finally, an e-mail came from my demanding English teacher at the engineering school where I took a course in writing at the behest of my professor. I am eternally thankful to him for asking me to take the course, and to the demanding teacher for sensitizing me to the nuances of writing for different audiences. She, now in retirement, is in our mailing list. I am one student of hers, maybe her only student, to edit and publish a community magazine. She enjoyed the tayir story, which made her recall her rips to India decades ago.  Her letter appears on the next page.

Separately, very perceptively, she also said this: Regarding your comment about the tayir starter, yes, the difference in yogurts around the world is always in the starter. Someone should do a study about the role that plays in a country’s food culture and unique gestalt of each cuisine!

Note: gestalt, a German word, refers to something that is made of many parts and yet is somehow more than or different from the combination of its parts; broadly, the general quality or character of something.

A Letter to the Editor On the Story on Tayir

Dear Editor Venkat:

Enjoyed your article on your adventures making tayir. I have always regretted not getting to Kerala during the time I spent in India in 1970 — but I did travel in the eastern portion of South India.

I loved, loved, loved the dosas and also idlis with coconut chutney. Also, the curries served on a banana leaf. The only reprise of any of these I’ve encountered was in Berkeley in the late 1970s or early 1980s when a tiny grandmother made fantastic dosas in a tiny restaurant space in an arcade of many small shops and eateries. Heavenly … … as long as it lasted. No idlis, though. So your article brought all this back. Lovely memories.

Best wishes,

Charlene Spretnak, Professor Emerita, Ojai, California   ♣

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A Jain Sannyasi’s Radical Advice for Addressing the Gender Ratio in Northern India

By K S Venkataraman

The Digambar (literally, sky-clad) Jain Sannyasi (monk) Tarun Sagar addressed the Haryana legislative assembly in late August, bluntly talking about social and political issues amid applause and laughter from lawmakers. He is known for kadve pravachan (literally “bitter discourses”), kadve because of the harsh truths he candidly conveys.

The Muni lauded Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call for ‘beti bachao, beti padhao’ (“Educate Girls, Save Girls”).

For a sannyasi, he was well attuned to current events: he lauded India’s “daughters” Sakshi Malik and PV Sindhu, the two Indian athletes among the 160-plus Indian Olympic contingent to return home with Olympic medals, for “saving India from disgrace” at the Rio Olympics.

The Jain Sannyasi (monk), Muni Tarun Sagar, addressing the Haryana Assembly.

The Jain Sannyasi (monk), Muni Tarun Sagar, addressing the Haryana Assembly.

He addressed Haryana’s very low girls-to-boys gender ratio on account of gender selection and female infanticide (for children 6 years and younger, the ratio is 839 girls to 1000 boys, with the India’s national average 919 girls to 1000 boys.)  Left to nature and unmolested by modern technology, this ratio is 995 girls to 1000 boys at birth.  As an aside, less than 1% of live human births are Intersex, births in which the newborns do not fall into the clear-cut male-female binary classification.

The Jain sannyasi said there are not enough women for young Haryanvi men to marry. To reverse the skewed gender ratio, he offered these radical changes in public behavior:

  • politicians having daughters should be given preference for contesting elections,
  • people should not marry off their daughters into families not having daughters; and
  • sannyasis should not take bhiksha (alms) from families that do not have daughters.

The message drew applause from the lawmakers.  ♣

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